Industry Insider: Havlicek Builders
When George and Lynn Havlicek had prospective buyers lined up to buy million dollar-plus homes from them, they resisted the urge to hire more people and expand the business to meet the burgeoning demand. Instead, they created a waiting list and told people they would be pleased to build a house for them, but they would have to wait a few months to get started.
"I don't think I ever lost a customer by doing that and I did it because I didn't want to sacrifice quality," said George, owner/founder of Havlicek Builders of Geneva.
But a nice side benefit, he realizes now, is that when the economy faltered, he didn't have to lay off anyone and he wasn't stuck with a lot of land on his books because he purchased improved lots from other developers. Lofty payments on vacant property has been the death knell for many other area builders.
Instead, he has simply transferred his carpentry crews to remodeling work, handled through his other business, Cabinets at Danada with locations in Wheaton and Geneva.
"For years I had people coming up to me after seeing my models at various homes shows like the Cavalcade and they would tell me they loved my workmanship, but they didn't want to move because they loved the house they were living in," Havlicek said. "They would ask me if I was interested in doing remodeling work and at the time, I was so busy with building custom homes that I couldn't even consider it."
However, now that the economy and demand for new houses has slowed, Havlicek's focus has changed. Since he also owns Cabinets at Danada, which he bought a few years ago from his friend, Glenda Swanson, he is able to have the two companies work together and he is able to accommodate those homeowners who want to put his custom workmanship in their existing home.
What is your dream house?
George would like a smaller, empty-nester house with a large family room/kitchen area and no formal living room or dining room. It would have a great view over water and would have all of the energy efficient and high-tech bells and whistles, he said.
Lynn would keep the house they currently live in, but would move it so it had a view of a lake or the ocean.
What is your favorite home amenity?
Lynn likes large places for family gatherings, like their screened porch, big kitchen and home theater. George likes high-tech electronics that bring music and sound throughout the home and control lighting and temperature.
George worked for a builder throughout high school, cleaning up job sites. Once he graduated he entered the carpentry apprentice program and when he finished in the late 1970s, the economy was slow. So he spent four years working on a commercial carpentry crew in Chicago, building out commercial spaces.
When the economy began to improve in the early 1980s, the builder he worked for in high school called him and offered him the chance to assemble his own carpentry crew and come back to work as one of his subcontractors. He called his fledgling company Hapco Construction. By 1983 he was building a spec home on the side to make extra money and, before you know it, he and a partner were building custom homes.
"In those days people would hire a draftsman to draw a home plan for a lot they owned and then they would send it to several builders for a bid," Havlicek said. "In most cases, they weren't designed very well and I found myself not only bidding, but trying to educate the buyers."
Eventually, Havlicek decided he preferred working with buyers before any plans were drawn and walking through the entire process with them. He hired architect Paul Lankenau away from a Naperville firm and Lankenau is still part of Havlicek Builders.
"We are true design-builders. Our goal is to build a home for each buyer that is a good value and that is truly 'their' home," Havlicek said. "We work to build at a higher -- more detailed -- level than most, incorporating many different styles."
Havlicek believes people should invest their money in the design end of their home in order to prevent disappointment later. Other things can be added, but the overall design of the home is expensive to adjust.
A four-person team at Havlicek works to help homeowners through the building process. Lankenau is a top-notch architect; Lynn Havlicek has a design background so she looks at plans from a woman's point of view, but also decorates models and show homes; Glenda Swanson is the kitchen designer; and George Havlicek oversees the whole process, making sure everything works together.
During normal times, Havlicek builds between 10 and 15 custom homes per year in the $1 million-plus range. But today he is willing to build anything from $700,000 and up and he is spending much of his time on remodeling projects.
The company has an agreement to build homes in the upscale Innisfree subdivision in St. Charles, owned by a local developer. In fact, they have a spec home built there now that prospective buyers may tour. Lots there start in the $200,000s.
"Innisfree was just getting started when the economy tanked so we are just waiting it out," he admitted. "We build a lot of homes for business owners and when you are laying people off at your business, most people aren't in the mood to build a big, new house."
In the past, Havlicek Builders has been among the principal builders in such Fox Valley communities as Fox Glen and The Woods of Fox Glen in St. Charles, Royal Fox in St. Charles, Deer Path Trails in Batavia, Red Gate Bridge in St. Charles and Mill Creek in Geneva.
Who are your target buyers?
Business owners and professionals like physicians and attorneys who are building their third or fourth house and want something uniquely their own are the target market for Havlicek's design-build product. The question of resale never even comes up because they are building exactly what they want, he said.
In Mill Creek where the company built less expensive homes, its customers were move-up buyers with young families.
What is the best part about being a builder?
"I love the fact people seem proud to own a Havlicek Home. If they later sell it, I have noticed they advertise it as a Havlicek Home because that helps it sell and that make me feel good," he said.
Lynn said she loves the fact that they start from a blank sheet of paper and produce something time after time that she would be happy to live in herself.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the business?
Havlicek said he is impressed with how far the industry has come in energy efficiency and green materials in a relatively short period of time. Houses are tighter thanks to better windows, insulation and heating and air conditioning systems.
"We used to just schedule someone to install insulation. Now we have three or four meetings on insulation," he laughed. "And I put geothermal systems into almost every house I build."
"Our remodeling is keeping us busy right now, but I think that sometime in the future people will once again want to build homes uniquely for themselves," he said. "We are already working on some great designs for homes so that when that happens, we are ready."